Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced on the evening of May 23 that he would begin a Section 232 investigation into the national security implications of automobile imports. According to a Department of Commerce (DOC) statement, the investigation will “determine whether imports of automobiles, including SUVs, vans, light trucks, and automotive parts into the United States threaten to impair the national security.” This investigation was initiated by the DOC at President Trump’s direction; shortly before Secretary Ross’ announcement, President Trump stated he “met with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to discuss the current state of our automobile industry” and “instructed Secretary Ross to consider initiating a Section 232 investigation.” President Trump has reportedly asked for additional tariffs of as much as 25% on automobile imports, though this is not reflected in any official documents.

Under Section 232, the President has broad authority to impose trade remedies, including tariffs and quotas, on imports on a global basis. Therefore, the Section 232 autos investigation could potentially cause serious trade disruptions. Initial reactions from Republican lawmakers and US trading partners have been negative.